The prize, which was new to the 2019 AMRC Training Centre Apprentice of the Year Awards ceremony, was donated by retired Silicon Valley CEO Graham Siddall. From Attercliffe, Siddall was an apprentice himself, and attributes the skills he learned as a young apprentice to laying the foundation for a successful career in precision engineering.

“As a former student apprentice, I’ve been enormously impressed with the AMRC Training Centre initiative and what it has given to the local community,” says Siddall. “I wanted to express my thanks and appreciation by giving the awardees a unique experience.”

Nominations for the annual awards are made by employers and trainers to recognise the achievement or contribution that apprentices have made to industry. Judging is performed by a panel of AMRC Training Centre staff and award sponsors.

“It was such a shock to win the award because I had no idea I was even nominated,” says Stickland, 22. “Graham stood in front of everyone, explained who he was and his background, then he called out my name as one of two winners.”

Horton, 24, says the evening then got even better: “We went up on stage to meet Graham, where he told us that he’d made plans for this trip to Boeing.”

Stickland and Horton, joined by Gareth Wilkinson, skills manager at the AMRC Training Centre, began their trip at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington state where 737 aircraft are built, followed by a tour of Boeing’s Composite Wing Centre in Everett.

At the University of Washington campus in Seattle, there were visits to the College of Engineering and the Boeing Advanced Research Centre, where the company’s instructors work with the faculty and its students on joint research projects.

It was the time spent at Boeing that sparked Stickland’s imagination: “The factory tours were unbelievable; you can’t appreciate the size of the buildings until you are there and being driven around in a golf buggy. We were also shown Boeing’s Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Centre (OMIC) Training Academy, where they are trying to recreate the successful apprenticeship programme we have in Rotherham.

“You can read a lot about Boeing in a magazine, but there’s no substitute for meeting people and actually seeing what happens,” she adds. “Graham didn’t just give us a tour, he took us for meals and introduced us to lots of people, so it was a great opportunity.”

The week-long stay in the northwest of the US concluded with a tour of the Boeing factory in Portland, Oregon by global programme manager Bill Gerry, and then the chance to sit in a Concorde during a VIP tour of the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

“That was my favourite part of the trip,” states Horton. “The number of planes they have on show there is amazing. As well as Concorde, we had a look around Air Force One and their space shuttle trainer; the thought of the people who had been on those planes is incredible.”

Associate dean at the University of Washington, Brian Fabien, says: “Our College of Engineering places high value on opportunities to study and research overseas, which prepares students for a global engineering career. We were delighted to be a small part of Mary and Craig’s exchange.”

Siddall adds: “It was such a fun week, and as much a learning experience for myself and my wife Brenda as it was for our visitors. Mary and Craig were a little nervous at first but it was good to see them relaxing and growing in confidence as the week progressed.”

James Needham, senior operations manager at Boeing Sheffield, says having apprentices travel to the US is an important part of their development: “Taking UK apprentices to Boeing’s factories in the US to see where the parts they build will be used, builds connections, broadens horizons and makes a difference in how they approach what they do.”

Horton, a research and development engineer at Technicut in Sheffield, says he will make good use his experience in the US: “At Boeing’s Customer Engagement Centre I saw how they interact with customers on a more personal level by making their visit particular to each individual. Communication with customers is definitely my weak point, so I will certainly take what I have learnt and apply it at Technicut.”

Jennie Mitchell, HR manager at Technicut, says: “Through his learning and hard work at the AMRC Training Centre, from advanced apprenticeship to degree level study, Craig has become an excellent engineer. He is a great ambassador for Technicut and for our apprenticeship programme. Moving forward, he will be able to draw on his visit to the US. He is testament to the value we place on apprentices and the key role they play in developing the future of our business.”

Stickland started a mechanical maintenance engineering apprenticeship in April 2018, working at Pryor in Sheffield.

Simon Dunn, operations director at Pryor, says: “This award is testament to Mary’s dedication and how hard she has worked during her apprenticeship. I’m really pleased with the success of Pryor apprentices, which reflects not only the determination of individual apprentices, but the dedication of experienced Pryor team members who are mentoring and developing the skills of our future workforce.”

The 2020 AMRC Training Centre Apprentice of the Year Awards will be held on 20 March, at the University of Sheffield’s Firth Hall.